CHARLES TOWN — West Virginia needs to get serious about job creation.
That was the message West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey brought to Jefferson County Monday when he spoke to a crowd of about 30 residents in the basement of the Charles Town Library to chew over reasons for the state’s bleak economic development picture and about ways to fix it.
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With Charles Town his first stop as part of a listening tour the attorney general has initiated since completing his first 100 days in office, Morrisey said he was interested in hearing from West Virginians about state regulations they have come up against that hinder job growth and economic prosperity.
Morrisey said West Virginia will find itself in a predicament as the federal government begins to wind down spending in order to rein in its out-of-control budget deficits. Already, he said, 37 percent of West Virginia’s budget comes from the federal government.
“The sequester is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “If we don’t change our underlying economy in our state we’re in deep trouble. Solutions are not coming from the federal government.
“To supercharge its economy fast, it is going to need to compete from an economic perspective,” Morrisey said, ticking off onerous tax and regulatory policies as among the ways that the state’s jobs outlook fails to thrive.
“West Virginia has the highest combination of corporate and income taxes,” Morrisey said. “Businesses look around and see that we are at the top end of the tax burden. I know everyone here doesn’t want to see West Virginia ranked 50th in anything good.”
Morrisey told those in attendance that there were a number of ways the attorney general’s office could help to improve the state’s legal and regulatory position, among them its ability to issue legal opinions to clear up ambiguities in state law, by providing counsel to state agencies and through drafting legislation.
“If we have the authority to act we’re going to work on it,” he said. “We have a lot going for us.”
Among these, Morrisey noted, was the state’s ranking as the third-largest producer of energy in the nation.
Clarion Conference Center owner Ken Lowe said he believed West Virginia was at an economic “crossroads” and much was at stake for the horse racing and breeding industries.
Lowe said threats to the state and to Jefferson County’s racing industry by casino operators threaten both its jobs picture as well as its available amount of green space and farmland.
Citing a 2011 West Virginia University economics study that racing and breeding brings $200 million to the state and about 2,000 jobs, Lowe said efforts like the one introduced at the last legislative session to cut back on the number of live racing days would result in the loss of both.
“If that happens, the farms are gone, the jobs are gone,” Lowe said, adding he was also suspicious of efforts by the State Lottery Commission to oversee horse racing.
Former County Commissioner Jim Ruland agreed. He said the best friend the county’s green space has is the racetrack, not the casino.
“If (racing is eliminated) all that unproductive farmland will be turning into more developments and we’ll lose the balance we have now,” said Ruland, who also cited the state’s prevailing wage rate as an impediment to economic development.
Walt Pellish, who serves on the Jefferson County Commission, said locally, Jefferson County needs to make road improvements to its U.S. 340 corridor to Maryland and to Virginia. He said the attorney general’s office could help the county beat back legal challenges that might arise from that effort.
Morrisey said he agreed that an improved roads system will help West Virginia’s economic fortunes. He said he supported efforts to complete Corridor H.
“You have to maintain an adequate road system to connect West Virginia to other states,” he said.
Pellish also said the county needs access to natural gas.
“There is a demand for it,” he said. “We have to find ways to make that happen.”
If there had been a pinata labeled EPA in the room, everybody would have taken a whack at it.
Pellish said new Chesapeake Bay requirements being enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency are going to have a negative impact on business growth.
“We must challenge these regulations to make sure they use common sense,” Pellish said, adding he worried about the recent adoption by Maryland of a ‘rain’ tax that penalizes owners of impermeable land.
Delegate Paul Espinosa said he was disappointed by the reception the subject of jobs got at the recently completed session of the state Legislature.
Espinosa said House of Delegate leaders declined to take up a bill to kill a tax on equipment and inventory, which many in attendance at the meeting agreed stifled both jobs and economic expansion.
“We have close to 60,000 West Virginians that are right now out of work,” Espinosa said. “It’s mind-boggling that legislation was not taken up.”
He said a bill that would have required a jobs impact statement be attached to each new law did get considered in committee but was snuffed out by amendments.[/cleeng_content]